Can legal committee stop Uganda’s age limit amendment?

Can legal committee stop Uganda's age limit amendment?
National Resistance Movement (NRM) party have finally made their move to have President Yoweri Museveni return in 2021. Courtesy Photo.

A visible split dominates the committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs as it starts scrutiny of the controversial constitutional amendment bill on the presidential age limit.

The bill seeks, among others, to scrap Article 102 (b) of the constitution, which caps the presidential age at 75, a move which could make President Yoweri Museveni eligible to contest for another term of office. At 73, Museveni would be ineligible to contest for the presidency in 2021, when his current term ends.

The committee was on Wednesday, September 27, tasked by the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga to scrutinize the bill and present a report within 45 days in line with the Rules of Procedure.

It’s at this stage that members of the general public can present their views in support or against the bill, to the committee before the bill is read for the second time. The committee is empowered to suggest amendments to the text with a view of improving the draft legislation.

However, opposition legislators have expressed worry that with the current composition of the committee, the process could only aim at rubber-stamping positions that have already been endorsed by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

With a total composition of 24 members, the legal committee is still dominated by the NRM with a membership of 13 legislators. The committee has six independent members, two members of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, two from the Democratic Party (DP) and one representative from the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF). The Rules of Procedure provide for a maximum of 30 MPs on a particular committee.

The seven members of both Opposition Parties and Independent legislators on the committee have publicly declared that they are against the proposed amendment while one MP from the NRM Party openly supported the amendment.

During Interviews with this publication, three MPs confirmed their opinions on the bill but were not willing to divulge them citing their position on the committee. Another nine legislators, shared a difficulty in openly revealing their positions saying they are waiting for consultations with their constituents.

Legal Committee chairperson Jacob Oboth Oboth said that his committee was going to do a critical Job on the bill with a view of giving Ugandans value for money. He acknowledged that the game of numbers would come when the committee is voting on contentious clauses or recommendations to parliament.

However, he noted that his duty will be to provide leadership and ensure that consensus is reached in the process.

Oboth Oboth declined to reveal his position on the bill saying that it would bias people who are to appear to speak for or against the amendment.

Opposition Whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda said they had already demystified the issue of numbers. He explained that the reason why security personnel had to be called in last week to eject those opposed to the amendment before a bill being tabled for the first reading was testimony that the opposition can deal with the numbers.

He said that the Opposition is currently involved in consultations seeking knowledge on whether their participation will not legitimize the process or whether they should abandon it which however would give the proponents of the bill a smooth ride.

Robinah Rwakoojo, the deputy chairperson of the legal committee said that much as she has no objections to amending the constitution, the committee will listen to both sides of the debate and carry out consultations in order to come up with a consensus on the bill.

She declined to reveal her personal opinion on the proposed lifting of the presidential age limit saying that divulging her position is to bias witnesses who are supposed to appear before her committee. She also cited a need to first consult with her constituents before speaking out openly on the amendment.

Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu also declined to reveal his personal opinion on the amendment saying it will be known soon.

Kyaka south MP Jackson Kafuuzi who seconded the bill on the floor and is also a member of the committee assures that the committee will approach the bill with an open mind and engage all stakeholders whose views will decide the contents of the final committee report. Kafuuzi believes that the majority of his constituents are behind the age limit bill.

Table of Legal Committee MPs Against, For and Undecided on Article 102 (b)

Ssemujju Ibrahim Kiira Municipality FDC
Mathias Mpuuga Masaka Municipality DP
Monicah Amoding Kumi Woman MP NRM
Adeke Anna Ebaju National Female Youth Independent
Muhammed Nsereko Kampala Central Independent
Wilfred Niwagaba Ndorwa East Independent
Medard Lubega Sseggona Busiro East DP
Jackson Kafuuzi Kyaka South NRM
Abdu Katuntu Bugweri County FDC
Jacob Oboth West Budama South Independent
Robinah Rwakoojo Gomba West NRM
Paul Akamba Busiki County Independent
Isala Eragu Veronica Kaberamaido County NRM
Kajara Aston Mwenge South NRM
Obua Denis Hamson Ajuri County NRM
Achia Remigio Pian County NRM
Ongalo Obote Kenneth Kalaki County NRM
Azairwe Dorothy Kamwenge Woman MP NRM
Mugoya Gaster Bukooli North NRM
Otto Edward Makmot
Agago County Independent
Sam Bitangaro Kwezira Bufumbira South NRM
Agaba Abbas Mugisha Kitagwenda County NRM
Gen. Elly Tumwine UPDF Representative None